No Man’s Sky: 18 quintillion science fiction worlds ready for VR

If you’re a science fiction reader, the visuals generated by the upcoming computer game No Man’s Sky look hauntingly familiar. The trailers and screenshots released so far are striking reminders of the covers of science fiction novels published over the last thirty years: alien landscapes sparkling with colour; futuristic spacecraft; amazing creatures; orbiting planets and moons lost in gaseous nebula; robotic giants; mysterious artefacts; star charts and space battles – it’s all there.

With its stunning appearance, No Man’s Sky has taken the gaming world by storm even before its official release 10 August 2016. The look has been deliberate on the part of the game’s creator Sean Murray and Art Director Grant Duncan, whose love of science fiction art and illustration are clearly on show. They’ve also enlisted the help of author and illustrator David Gibbons, most famous for the Watchmen graphic novels. The covers that have graced the works of science fiction luminaries Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, and Ian M. Banks, would easily slide in beside screenshots taken from No Man’s Skys trailers.

What do you do in No Man’s Sky?

In No Man’s Sky, players assume the role of planetary explorers, visiting numerous worlds teaming with life, and crossing the equally busy dark between the stars to reach them. It’s an open-ended game with endless possibilities. There are no firm rules or guidelines. Players can trade, fight, explore, or follow the overarching “lore” of the game (completely optional) that takes players on a lengthy journey to the centre of the universe. From various trailers, it appears that a big part of playing No Man’s Sky may be learning how to survive the sometimes inhospitable alien environments, from extreme temperatures to dangerous lifeforms.

No Man’s Sky is procedurally generated art

No Man’s Sky is procedurally generated, meaning 3D models and textures are generated using algorithms, as opposed to manually and laboriously by computer animators and illustrators in exacting detail. While the designers do lay out the rules the 3D objects and textures must follow when they are generated mathematically; they don’t need to generate the trillions of variations themselves. Some of the mathematically generated creations can potentially be as surprising to the designers as they are to the players.

The classic science fiction space trading game Elite pioneered procedural generation in the 1980’s, but Hello Games appears to have taken the process to the next level. There are 18 quintillion different planets to explore in No Man’s Sky, more than-than enough for even the most dedicated gamer.

The Virtual Reality possibilities of No Man’s Sky

Imagine exploring such vivid and diverse worlds using one of the latest Virtual Reality headsets from Oculus Rift or HTC Vive? In a vibrant universe teaming with exotic lifeforms on an ever changing playing field, No Man’s Sky seems to have been built especially for VR. If there is enough variation to keep players interested (which you’d think there should be given its scope), and if the gameplay can live up to the hype, No Man’s Sky could be the first virtual reality hit.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear word from Sean Murray regarding VR and No Man’s Sky. In an interview with Edge Magazine, Sean Murray said:

“I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, it’s something we’re thinking about. Morpheus (Playstation VR), Oculus… There’s nothing more cool and sci-fi than VR and a big procedural universe. I think that, for the people who want to just explore, and even for the space combat and things like that, it would be a good fit. Let’s put it that way.”

The closer No Man’s Sky edges towards it’s 10 August release date, the more intrigued I am to find out what it’s like to play and what they’ll do with VR. Since Sony has helped finance and promote the game, I fear No Man’s Sky will be restricted to Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, leaving owners of the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive out of luck. Playstation VR is due out only a couple of months after No Man’s Sky’s August release, on 13 October.

Check out our No Man’s Sky screenshot gallery below and a trailer from the studio Hello Games that provides background on the game’s lore and artistic direction.